Digression 3: Earth - Land - Eretz
The Land Promised To Abraham: Centre Of Bible Prophecy
Hebrew word eretz can mean:
the dust of the earth
the whole earth
the land of Israel, or that promised
a few percent of the occurrences of the word relate to the whole earth
/ planet. It refers most frequently to the
land of Israel, or the whole territory from the Nile
to the Euphrates that had been promised to Abraham. Statistically, the chances
are that whenever we encounter eretz, this is what it refers
to. We read the Bible not only through the mask of translation, but
with a great distance from the minds of those who originally read and
spoke the words. Eretz would have been understood by the original
Bible writers and readers / hearers as a reference to eretz Israel, just as it
is understood by a Jew today. The English translations aren’t helpful.
They tend to mix the translations hopelessly between “country”, “land”
and “earth”. Other Hebrew words are translated “world”; these are the
words which more commonly refer to the whole planet.
must remember that Genesis was written by Moses originally for the purpose
of establishing a national identity for Israel in the wilderness. The idea of “heavens and earth” occur in Genesis, and we read of
how creation would have appeared to a person located on the earth. Now
whilst the Genesis account of creation does explain how the whole
of existence came about, by acts of Divine creation, the first hearers
and readers of the account would have understood “the earth” as referring
to their promised land of Israel. “Heavens and earth” is a common enough
figure for Israel and the Jewish system (1 Chron. 27:23; Ps. 50:4; Is.
1:2; Jer. 2:12; Hos. 2:21; Joel 2:10,30; Hag. 2:6,21; Is. 51:13,16;
Mt. 5:18; 24:29; 2 Pet. 3:7,10). Significantly, the Pentateuch begins
with the account of the creation of “heaven and earth” and concludes
with Moses appealing to the “heavens and earth” of Israel (Dt. 32:1; 33:28). This is not to say that Genesis
1 and 2 only recount the creation of Israel; it describes the creation of the whole universe,
but it was probably understood by early readers and hearers as God’s
account of the creation of the land on which Israel found themselves living. For an observer on the earth / land of Israel, the impression is given that the whole of creation
came into existence on account of Israel. The stars etc. came into existence to give light
on the earth / land of Israel; just as in the new creation, all things likewise
“are” for our sakes, even if the rest of the world benefits too.
It has been observed that when Is.
21:1 speaks of “the earth” being made empty etc., this is talking about
Israel, yet in the language of
Gen. 1. It is as if we are to understand the record of creation there
as especially relevant to the creation of the land.
has been shown elsewhere that the garden of
Eden can refer to the whole land promised to Abraham, seeing that the
flood reshaped the topography of the area (1). Likewise, Ararat (Gen. 8:4) means ‘holy
hill’ and may well refer to Mount Zion. Mist came out of the land, there was no rain
on the land [there may have been on the rest of the planet], it
was watered by a canopy over the land. Now this would have had tremendous
significance for Israel in the wilderness,
likewise under a canopy of cloud each day. There is significant evidence
for the flood being local; the list of problems
with a universal flood are beyond the scope of this study, but they
surely exist. Brother Robert Roberts in The Visible Hand Of
God considers some of them, and concludes the flood was local. My
submission is that the topography of the area was totally different;
if there was a local flood, with the highest hills in the area covered,
then there must have been a huge basin bounded
by mountain ranges which kept the water in. All the animals living in
the area were preserved in the ark [thus avoiding the major problems
created by supposing that literally all species world-wide entered the
ark and somehow spread from the ark afterwards into all
the planet]. It would also account for the lack of any means
to save fish; if the ‘land’ / earth which was flooded was land-locked, this explains things.
104:5-9 describes “the earth” as being covered with the deep, and “the
waters stood above the mountains”- clearly alluding to the flood. Yet
these mountains are those which are “a refuge for the wild goats…conies”
(Ps. 104:18 RV). These sound like the mountains of Israel / the Middle East rather than
any other part of the world.
the flood, we come to the record of Babel. This is prefaced by some genealogies. The record
speaks as if Shem, Ham and Japheth were the only people living on ‘earth’.
Once we take this to mean ‘the land’, things are much easier. These
three men were ancestors of the Middle Eastern races [as provable within
the pages of the Bible itself], but not of any others. The idea that
the black peoples descended from Ham / Canaan and were to be servants is sadly
a 19th century piece of racism, that has far too much acceptance in our community.
The tension between the children of Shem and
Canaan has been worked out between the Jews and Canaanites,
not white and black. The Canaanites which we read of in the Bible as
dwelling in the land were quite simply the descendants of Canaan / Ham. Interestingly, we read of men like Magog, Gomer, Meshech,
Tarshish, Asshur, Elam, Aram…all of which occur in prophecies like Ezekiel
38, as the latter day enemies of Israel. The origin of these peoples is not in Eurasia; they are the ‘people of the land’, the neighbours and relatives
of Israel. The peoples of the land spoke one language in
the sense that they all had the same intentions- to build a tower, and
live together in one place, in Babylon / Babel. Previously we have been informed that the sons
of Noah were divided “in their lands; every one after his tongue, after
their families” (Gen. 10:5,31). So when in
chapter 11 we are told that they had “one language” this must refer
to their unity of intent rather than them all using the same lexical
items. They were scattered from Babylon / Babel into all parts
of the land [i.e. that promised to Abraham]. The descendants of Shem,
Ham and Japheth weren’t literally scattered into the whole planet. If
the flood was local, then there would have been plenty of other people
alive in other parts of the planet.
provides the background to the promises to Abraham, which begin
in Genesis 12. All nations of the land were to be blessed because of
Abraham and his seed, his one special seed [Jesus] and also his natural
descendants. His children were intended to be a blessing to the other
nations who lived around them, especially in that they were intended
to bring them to Abraham’s God and Abraham’s faith. Now this is not
to say that ultimately, Abraham and his seed will not bring blessing
on literally the whole planet. Rom. 4:13
interprets the promise of the land of Canaan as meaning ‘the whole world’. But this was by
later development, and on account of the universal blessing achieved
by the sacrifice of Abraham’s greatest seed, the Lord Jesus. In the
first instance, the blessing was to be upon all the families who lived
on the ‘earth’ / land (12:3). There is a paradox here. For those already
living in the land promised to Abraham, their land would be taken from
them but they would be blessed. God was telling Abraham: ‘You will possess
the land and all nations of that land will be blessed’. They were to
give up their physical inheritance to receive a spiritual one- this
was the ideal. Paul applies this idea to us when he says that if Gentiles
have received the spiritual blessings of Abraham’s seed, ought they
not to give their physical blessings to that same physical seed of Abraham?
This is how and why he tells Gentile converts in Rome to send donations to the poor Jewish brethren
in Jerusalem: “For if the Gentiles have been made partakers
of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them
in carnal things… I
shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ”
way the English Bibles make a difference between the promise of the
“land” and the blessing to come on those in the “earth” confuses this-
but it is always the same word eretz used. Tragically,
Israel didn’t fulfil the imperatives of this promise.
They were not a blessing to the nations living in the land. They went
away from their unique and wonderful God- hence the frequent comment
that Israel and Zion were a mocking to all the surrounding nations.
Israel were intended to be a missionary nation, just as all the spiritual
seed of Abraham are intended to bring blessing into their worlds too.
Yet the promise will finally be fulfilled, in that a repentant Israel will be in the very end, “a blessing in
the midst of the land” (Is. 19:24), resulting in Egypt and Assyria turning to the God of Israel. Thus Israel will not be totally destroyed as a nation, for
a blessing is in them (Is. 65:8). When Israel repent and enter the new covenant, then
they will be made a blessing to the Gentile world around them (Ez. 34:26).
“So I will save you, and ye shall be a blessing” (Zech. 8:13).
But to return to Abraham.
His seed developed. They were brought out of Egypt in order to inherit the earth / land promised
to them. We read in Ex. 9:16 that the Name was declared in all the earth
due to the exodus- i.e. throughout the whole land promised to Abraham.
Rahab etc. heard about it, but not the whole planet (Josh. 4:23,24). They were brought into the land, but reminded in Ex. 19:5
that “all the earth is mine”. This may refer to the whole planet, but
surely it has special reference to the land? In one sense, all nations
are Yahweh’s, and yet He has also chosen Israel as His special people. And so it is with the
earth / land of Israel. He has given the world to other nations, but
His eyes are especially upon His own land. Josh 2:11 [and many other passages] say that God is the God
of the earth- and yet many times in the surrounding verses eretz
is used regarding the land (vv. 1,2,3,9,14,18, 24). He is specifically
the God who has His intended colony on earth, in the land He promised
to His friend Abraham. The Law explained to Israel how to behave in this land. This in Lev. 11 we
have a list of all the beasts that are “upon the earth”- but there are
many other animals apart from those mentioned there, if we take the
‘earth’ as meaning the whole planet. It clearly refers here to the
land of Israel. There are
some passages which we have become accustomed to reading as referring
to the whole planet- e.g. Num. 14:21 “all the earth shall be filled
with the glory of the Lord”. Yet the surrounding verses are all using
eretz specifically about the land, not the whole planet (vv.
2,3,6,7,9,14,16,23,24,30,31). God’s foremost intention was to fill His
land with His glory, and through this, secondarily, the whole planet.
Israel were obedient to the Law, their example would be a witness
to their neighbours. “And all people of the
earth [i.e. land] shall see that thou art called by the name of the
LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee” (Dt. 28:10). God would set Israel on high above all nations of the land (28:1). Only those round about Israel would see this, not the whole planet. “The nations” therefore
refer to those in the land. In this same context they are warned that
if they are not obedient, then they would be taken into all kingdoms
of the earth (v. 25). And this is what happened- they were taken into
captivity in Babylon, Assyria and their empires within the ‘earth’ / land. They were invaded
by a nation from the end of the earth (28:49 ),
which Habakkuk defines as Babylon, a nation at the extremity
of the land / earth promised to Abraham.
Dt. 28:64-68 describe a latter day scattering of Israel,
in that their being taken into Egypt by ships has never yet happened:
“And the LORD shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end
of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods,
which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and
stone. And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall
the sole of thy foot have rest: but the LORD shall give thee there a
trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind: And thy life
shall hang in doubt before thee; and thou shalt fear day and night,
and shalt have none assurance of thy life: In the morning thou shalt
say, Would God it were even! and at even thou
shalt say, Would God it were morning! for the
fear of thine heart wherewith thou shalt fear, and for the sight of
thine eyes which thou shalt see. And the LORD shall bring thee into
Egypt again with ships, by the
way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and
there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen,
and no man shall buy you”. This latter day
scattering will be throughout the Arab world / land.
Nations In The Earth
Israel finally entered the land under Joshua, a clear type of the
Lord Jesus. “The LORD was with Joshua; and his fame was noised
throughout all the country” (Josh 6:27), the eretz. Clearly the
whole planet didn’t know Joshua had invaded Canaan. Many times in Joshua
and Judges we read of the people of the eretz: “For the Canaanites
and all the inhabitants of the land [eretz] shall hear
of it, and shall environ us round, and cut off our name from the earth
[eretz]” (Jos 7:9). Here the Israelites
feared being cut off from their place in the land. They perceived
the world / earth to them as the land where their enemies lived. In
Josh. 12:1,7 we meet “the kings of the earth”,
i.e. of the land, and this must surely be the basis of how we are to
understand the references to “the kings of the earth” in Revelation.
Dt. 13:7 defines “the peoples which are round about you” [Israel] as being “from the one end of the earth even unto the other
end of the earth” (RV). Those peoples which bordered with the Israelites were “the earth” /
were other nations living in the land promised to Abraham, and yet Israel
were unique amongst them: “And what one nation in the earth [eretz]
is like thy people, even like Israel, whom God went to
redeem for a people to himself, and to make him a name, and to do for
you great things and terrible, for thy land [eretz], before thy people,
which thou redeemedst to thee from Egypt,
from the nations and their gods?” (2 Sam 7:23). The nations of
the earth we read of in Revelation and other prophecies likewise primarily
refer to the [now Arab] nations living in the land. Solomon recognized
this in 1 Kings 4:10; 8:53: “For thou didst separate them from among
all the people of the earth [eretz], to be thine inheritance,
as thou spakest by the hand of Moses thy servant, when thou broughtest our fathers out of Egypt”. The Jewish people have
been separated from their Arab neighbours
and brothers, not from out of the whole Gentile stock on the planet.
It must be remembered that Israel are ethnically linked to the other
Arab nations in the ‘land’- Jacob’s 12 sons married wives from there;
some of their mothers were Arab slave girls; Jacob’s wives were Arameans,
as was his mother (Gen. 28:5); historically there was much intermarriage
with surrounding nations, throughout Israel’s history; Ephraim and Manasseh
were half Egyptian. Rahab, Ruth etc. are all reminders of the amount
of Arab blood in the average Jew. The definition of ‘Israel’ was therefore not so
much on ethnic principles but rather on spiritual ones. Anyone who has
walked the streets of modern Israel and pondered the question ‘What
is a Jew?’ will have come to this conclusion, as they see Russians,
Americans, black Africans…all wearing skull caps.
were a few times in Israel’s history when they began to realize God’s
intention for them. Thus “King Solomon exceeded all the kings of the
earth for riches and for wisdom. And all the earth sought to Solomon,
to hear his wisdom, which God had put in his heart” (1 Kings
The nations of the ‘earth / land’, not all the planet,
came to him. This was God’s intention-
that the other nations living in land should come to Israel for teaching about their God. “The earth” here can’t mean
just the land where the Israelites lived, nor can it mean the whole
planet, so it must refer to the land promised to Abraham. Another example
is in the time of Hezekiah. The King of Assyria boasted: “Where are
the gods of Hamath, and of Arpad? where are the gods
of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? have they delivered Samaria out of mine hand? Who are they among all the gods
of the countries [eretz], that have delivered their country out of mine hand, that
the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of mine hand?” (2
Kings 18:34,35). These gods of the surrounding
Arab nations were the gods of the land. Hezekiah
prayed: “Now therefore, O LORD our God, I beseech thee, save thou us
out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou
art the LORD God, even thou only ( 2
Kings 19:9). The Arab nations of the land whose gods hadn’t saved them
would now know that Yahweh was the only real God. The whole planet
didn’t come to know this. This was exactly God’s intention for Israel
at that time- that the other Arab Semitic nations of the land should
know Him through the witness of Israel. This was also fulfilled at the
time of Esther 8:17: “And many of the people of the land became Jews;
for the fear of the Jews fell upon them”. Yet sadly, Israel were more
often like the hopelessly indebted servant in the parable- they were
forgiven what they owed God, but would not forgive their neighbouring
brother who was in their debt.
Note how the Medo-Persian empire
in Es. 8:17 is called “the land”- this was God’s intention, that the
other nations living in the land became ‘Jews’, not ethnically but in
spiritual terms. A Jew is therefore understood in the Esther record
to mean one separated unto the worship of the God of Israel, rather
than being defined by ethnic characteristics alone. Likewise the
Persian empire included the kingdoms
of the land promised to Abraham: “Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the LORD God of heaven
given me” (2 Chron. 36:23). Babylon too was dominant over “the earth”
in the sense of the land promised to Abraham, not the planet. Thus Jer.
50:23: “How is the hammer of the whole earth cut asunder and broken!
how is Babylon become a desolation among the nations!”. “The whole earth”
was the area which Babylon oppressed- largely comprised of the nations
in the land promised to Abraham. Also in Ez. 31:12 Assyria’s dominion
is likewise described as being over all the earth / land: “And strangers,
the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him: upon
the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen, and his
boughs are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the people
of the earth are gone down from his shadow, and have left him”. The
Assyrian King had “gathered all the earth” beneath him previously (Is.
10:14). Judah were to be judged “in the border of Israel” i.e. in Babylon and Assyria, on the edges of the land promised to Abraham (Ez. 11:11).
all lays the basis for the prophecy of Daniel 2- where we have a series
of powers dominating ‘the land’, the significance of which is in the
way this is programmatic for the interpretation of Daniel 7 and thereby
the beats of Revelation. Elsewhere in Daniel the “land” is also
8:5: “And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west
on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the
goat had a notable horn between his eyes”. The Grecian goat came
from the West onto the territory of the “earth”. This means that Greece
cannot be part of the “whole earth” in this context. So here, the “earth”
doesn’t refer to the Greek or Roman empires / ‘habitable’. The empires
of Daniel 2 didn’t have dominion over the whole planet; they dominated
the land of Israel. This is exactly why they are of significance. The
focus, therefore, of the beasts of Daniel 7 and therefore Revelation
is not Europe, but Israel and the Arab nations around her, between the
Nile and Euphrates.
speaks of a “beast of the earth”. The OT background of this may be in
Ez. 34:27-29: “And the tree of the field shall yield her fruit, and
the earth shall yield her increase, and they shall be safe in
their land, and shall know that I am the LORD, when I
have broken the bands of their yoke, and delivered them out of the hand
of those that served themselves of them. And they shall no more be a
prey to the heathen, neither shall the beast of the land devour
them; but they shall dwell safely, and none shall make them afraid.
And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no
more consumed with hunger in the land”. Eretz occurs
four times in these verses. Three times it clearly refers to the land
promised to Abraham. “The beast of the land” must therefore refer to
a beast / power from the land promised to Abraham- nowhere else.
uses the language of Joshua about the “kings of the land”: “The kings
of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against
the LORD, and against his anointed”. Psalm 2 is applied to those who
sat in judgment upon our Lord- those who ruled over the earth / land
of Israel (Acts 4:26). But the Psalm is clearly capable of a latter
day application too. Which would mean that it is the
powers ruling over the land [or so they think] who rise up against the
God’s final purpose to unite all the nations in ‘the land’ under His
rulership; they will all be His people, despite Israel’s studied rejection
of Him, and the extent of hatred the other nations had for Israel. In
this will be exhibited a grace enough to convert the whole world, and
bind them too into the gracious Kingdom of Abraham’s seed. “In that
day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian
shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians
shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third
with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of
the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be
Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance”
(Is. 14:23-25). Then God will be the God of the whole land, not just
Israel (Is. 54:5). Egypt, Assyria and Israel will all be linked together
jointly as God’s people, which Israel alone had been previously.
has many connections with the events during the time of Hezekiah, when
after the salvation of Zion, the surrounding nations in the land promised
to Abraham came up to worship there: “The nations shall fear the name
of the Lord, and all the kings of the earth thy glory” (Ps. 102:15 RV).
Here, “the nations” refers specifically to “the kings of the earth /
land”. And one wonders how many other times the phrase “the nations…of
the earth” refers specifically to the powers in the land from the Nile
to the Euphrates.
word Ge is likewise used in the NT.
We must remember that although the NT is written in Greek, it strongly
reflects Hebrew usage of words. Again, the word commonly refers to the
land of Israel. Consider some examples:
“But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is
God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by
Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King” (Mt. 5:34,35).
This is alluding to the Jewish habit of swearing by their
thinkest thou, Simon? of
whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? of
their own children, or of strangers?” (Mt. 17:25). The rulers of the
earth were those ruling over Israel.
upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from
the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias,
whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you,
All these things shall come upon this generation” (Mt. 23:35). The blood
shed on the earth means that which was shed in the land.
and earth passing away (Mt. 24:35) follows on the Lord speaking of how
all tribes of the earth / land would mourn in repentance (:30). He was
speaking in the common OT idiom that used ‘heaven and earth’ for Israel.
The nation would pass away in AD70, but His words would not.
The Queen of Sheba came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear Solomon (Lk.
11:31 )- not ‘the furthest
place on the planet from Israel’, but, from the boundaries
of the promised land.
“But woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck,
in those days! for there shall be great distress
in the land, and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall
by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations:
and Jerusalem shall be trodden down
of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be
fulfilled. And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and
in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity”
(Lk. 21:23-25). “Land” and “earth” here are the same words. The distress
in the land of v. 23 is amplified in v. 25- all nations in the land
will be distressed. The primary reference is clearly to the position
amongst the Arab nations now living in the land promised to Abraham.
If they are all forcibly brought together under ‘Babylon’ this may well
be as a result of a brief, chaotic inter-Arab conflict in which Babylon
emerges as a strong confederacy united only by a hatred of Israel. This
is why in Is. 14 these nations from “all the earth / land” rejoice that
they are freed from Babylon’s oppressive “hammer”.
come to Revelation, especially bearing in mind its’ constant allusions
to the Old Testament, the ‘earth’ can consistently be understood as
the land of Israel. All the weight of Biblical evidence is in this direction.
There are undeniable similarities between the events of the seals and
vials, and what happened in the land in AD66-70. The whole idea of pouring
out judgment upon the ‘earth’ refers to the OT images of such judgments
being poured out upon the land. Consider too how Rev. 7:1: “And after
these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth,
holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on
the earth…”. If the earth has corners, it can’t really be the globe,
rather, an area such as the land.
saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting
gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every
nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, Saying with a loud voice,
Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come:
and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains
of waters. And there followed another angel, saying, Babylon is fallen,
is fallen, that great city, because she made all nations drink of the
wine of the wrath of her fornication. And the third angel followed them,
saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image,
and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand” (Rev. 14:6-9).
This makes more sense if we imagine the nations presently living in
the land promised to Abraham, confederated against Israel under Babylon,
now having the Gospel preached to them. They are told not to
confederate under Babylon. The ‘earth dwellers’ in
the OT (especially in Joshua) invariably refer to the nations dwelling
in the land, not the whole planet. Yet Babylon will reign over
“the kings of the earth” (17:18), another phrase so often used in the
OT of the nations dwelling in the land. So it would seem that generally
they will reject the warning given to them to keep separate from her.
Yet Revelation ends with: “the kings of the earth do bring their glory
and honour into it”. The kings of the land, once confederate with Babylon,
will in the very end come to Zion and accept her rather than Babylon
as their capital.
Heaster, The Last Days ch. 31.